Need an escape from the hustle and bustle? You may still be able to get Wi-Fi and cell phone reception at these under-the-radar islands, but that’s a small concession for an easy weekend getaway off U.S. shores. Many of these islands lack traffic lights or even cars, offering visitors the chance to embrace a slower pace of life. From Maine to Hawaii, these quaint islands feel blissfully outside of time.
This island 10 miles off the coast of Portland has a year-round population of 400 people and no traffic lights. Even the ride over on the Casco Bay ferry—a barebones workhorse of a boat that transports mail in addition to passengers—feels like something out of an Edward Hopper painting. Stay at the Chebeague Island Inn, which has been a summer haven for well-to-do New Englanders since the 1880s, and savor the days spent playing tennis or golf, exploring the beaches, and eating your weight in lobster. In the spring through fall, lobstermen trawl this part of the bay for their daily catch. In the off-season, locals raise oysters that end up on the menus at swanky restaurants in Portland and beyond.
This two-town island may be just 22 miles off the coast of Los Angeles, but it feels a world away. The island has played host to pirates, smugglers, gold-diggers, and a young Marilyn Monroe before she became famous, and although it’s certainly changed over time, it’s still charmingly low key. The best way to arrive is by boat, but once you’re on the island you can get around on foot, bike, or golf cart (the number and size of cars on the island are restricted). You won’t find a single fast-food joint or celebrity chef, but you will find plenty of outdoor activities like zip-lining, glass-bottom boat tours, and fly fishing.
This 40-square-mile barrier island off the coast of Georgia near Florida has some of the most pristine beaches on the East Coast, and its Spanish moss-draped landscapes are worthy of a romance novel. It is a great place to see wildlife, including horses, feral hogs, armadillos, endangered sea turtles, and a wide variety of birds. Visitors can either camp in tents or stay at the Greyfield Inn, a historic bed-and-breakfast built by the Carnegie family in the 1890s. In addition to preserving the natural habitat, the Cumberland Island Conservancy has also sponsored retreats for artists and writers.
On Daufuskie Island, a community of 500 people between Hilton Head and Savannah, your dreams of staying in a lighthouse can come true. This one dates back to 1873 and, together with the Strachan Mansion, which was built in 1910, is part of the historic private community Haig Point. The five-mile-long island is the picture of Southern charm, with weeping willows, white sand beaches, and a rum distillery. There are no cars on the island; people get around by bike or golf cart. Activities include kayaking, horseback riding on the beach, crabbing, and fishing.
If golf carts are too modern for you, how about getting around by horse and buggy? That’s an option on Mackinac Island in Lake Huron, where motor vehicles are prohibited. Visitors come here for a taste of the simple life. The entire island is designated a National Historic Landmark, and 80 percent of it is parkland. The historic Mission Point is the place to stay: You can do a wine tasting at Reserve, indulge in spa treatments, and play tennis and croquet. It’s an especially lovely escape in summer, when the lilac hedges are in bloom.
Hawaii’s lesser-known island of Lanai is a stark contrast to the Big Island and Maui. Once the home of Dole’s pineapple plantation, the early 20th-century bungalows built for Dole’s employees still stand in the center of Lanai City (population 3,000). There’s not a single stoplight on the island. Most visitors stay at the luxurious Four Seasons Lanai, a celebrity magnet where Bill and Melinda Gates got married. Guests can hang out at Huapoloe Bay, take one of the resort’s Jeeps out for a spin and explore the surreal Martian landscape at the Garden of the Gods, or watch the sunset at Sweetheart Rock.
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